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Apple to enhance Apple Pencil with Ultrasonic Technology

Apple is researching into ways to introduce ultrasonic-based technology to enable touch sensing.

The first of 2 recently-published patent applications from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the “Composite cover material for sensitivity improvement of ultrasonic touch screens” filing explains how an ultrasonic layer could support existing capacitive-based touch displays currently used in their devices, such as with the iPhone and iPad, or replace it entirely.

This whole conceptual idea would require intermediate layers of an acoustic touch screen’s cover material.

Acoustic Touch Sensing utilizes transducers to transmit ultrasonic waves along a surface of a device, along with the layers, with sensors identifying the waves and any reflections.

Stylus, a user’s finger or any other foreign element coming in contact with the screen layer would cause reflections.

By studying the various reflections, understanding the time-of-flight and a wave’s final resting place, the location of the object and even its size could be identified using the data.

By implementing multiple layers, the change in data between layers could also reveal the amount of pressure applied, making it suitable for features like 3D Touch.

Including the addition of new layers for touch screens and major changes to the Apple Pencil to include ultrasonic transducers for more accurate movement recognition. 

The second filing, “Ultrasonic touch detection on stylus” follows an alike concept of using wave-based technology, but instead stresses on using it on a stylus, like the Apple Pencil.

Here, it’s less about how the stylus interacts with a touch-sensitive surface, but more about recognizing how the stylus itself is touched & handled by the user.

Image Source: Google

Rows of transducers along the shaft of the stylus would be able to identify where on the stylus’ surface other objects are pressing it, again affecting any transmitted waves as with the display filing.

Image Source: Google

While having transducers on one end would help determine where the objects touch in terms of length from the nib of the stylus, multiple rows will also unveil what parts and how much of the surface area of the stylus is in contact.

In laymen terms, the stylus would be able to understand how the user is gripping the input device, and in what region of the stylus.

A Future with a lot of upgrades for the new Apple Pencil

By knowing this data, applications that work with the stylus could potentially change what occurs when the user touches the stylus to the screen, or by other movements. For instance, twisting the stylus and shifting the grip around could alter the width of a pen stroke in an art program, or a tap on a part of the shaft could be used same as a software button press.

Recognizing the grip of the user could also reveal if they are left or right-handed, with that knowledge helping the user, in improving palm detection features when the user is writing or drawing on the screen.

Implementation of ultrasonic technology for touch detection has chances increase, as it could easily be paired alongside other technologies, including resistive and capacitive systems, but it is doubtful Apple will bring it in unless it has a good reason to, considering how well placed the other technologies already are on the market.

While the Touch Bar for the MacBook Pro works well, only in limited scenarios, it is very unlikely that Apple will utilize a full touchscreen into its MacBook or iMac lines anytime soon.

With or without the above-described technology. In April 2017, Apple’s Phil Schiller stated a touch-sensitive display “doesn’t even register on the list of things pro users are interested in talking about.” 

Some other patent filings from September indicate ways a touch-enabled MacBook could come about, explaining an enclosure for an iPad that extends the tablet’s utility in a notebook form while still keeping display’s responsiveness. Apple has also thought to make an enhanced keyboard and lower section for MacBooks that turns the entire area into a giant touchpad.

As for the stylus (Apple Pencil), Apple has advised other possible ways it could change. One patent application in February 2018 suggests how a stylus and motion or orientation sensors attached to monitors or notebooks could allow for the stylus to be applied onto any flat surface or in the air, with movements translated into inputs for applications.